I am almost certain that every lawyer has been asked the following question at least once at a social gathering: “Is practicing law anything like Suits?”
I myself have been asked this question more times than I can count. My standard response is to laugh (politely pretending that the question hasn’t been asked a thousand times before) and say “practicing law is NOTHING like what you see on TV.”
TV series like Suits and The Good Wife are incredibly entertaining and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m completely hooked on these series. Legal practice however is depicted inaccurately in a number of ways.
Firstly, the work of a lawyer is certainly not as glamorous as that portrayed on TV and I have never met a lawyer as witty and ridiculously good-looking as Harvey Specter.
The show alludes to some of the mundane aspects of a lawyers work, but quite understandably does not emphasise them. Real life lawyers often find themselves buried under paperwork. In fact, I would say that 99 % of a lawyer’s work involves filing paperwork, reading and drafting documents, reviewing, revising and editing those said documents, taking phone calls and meeting clients.
Even if matters reach the courtroom, cases will typically drag on for 18 months rather than within the one hour time frame of a TV show. In reality litigation matters take a long time, even when your client is seeking a faster resolution on the matter. Moreover, lawyers don’t get to spend days on just one case. We are always juggling multiple files and would consider ourselves lucky if we get to spend 30 minutes uninterrupted on one file.
Lawyers on TV constantly breach professional ethics for the sake of drama. In fact, the entire premise of Suits is that Harvey Specter hires Mike Ross as an Associate knowing full well that he lacked the necessary qualifications. Mike Ross continues to practice without valid qualifications; Harvey Specter and the Managing Partner Jessica Pearson allow Mike to continue practicing without valid qualification and Mike even appears at Court. Many lawyers are portrayed in television and film as regularly engaging in screaming matches, and they are depicted as being hot headed and proud. For example, Harvey Specter of Suits often makes things personal, at times making enemies of other lawyers for personal reasons at the risk of his client’s best interests. Will Gardner of The Good Wife has also engaged in such behaviour. The depiction of lawyers on TV shows suggest that lawyers play fast and loose with ethical rules.
In reality, a large aspect of legal practice involves meticulously avoiding the breach of professional and ethical obligations. At least once a week, my colleagues and I find ourselves discussing potential conflicts of interest and what actions we should take to ensure ethical and professional conduct. It is a very real concern of ours that we might violate one of the hundreds of ethical and professional rules of conduct unknowingly. We take great pains and err on the side of caution to ensure that we adhere to the ethical and professional standards of the legal profession. We strive to work towards resolution for all parties involved rather than make things personal and create enemies of the other party’s lawyers. For the most part, lawyers try to treat each other with professional courtesy.
In truth, my life as a lawyer is nothing like that portrayed on TV. That being said, I still enjoy my job and ending my arguments outside of work with the phrase “lawyered”.